On 5th anniversary of ACA shooting, victims' families talk on impact of memorial

Monica Sandreczki
April 2, 2014

Today marks five years since the tragic shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, when a gunmen killed 13 people before turning the gun on himself. The victims’ families and the city of Binghamton collaborated to remember the victims in an outdoor memorial on the city’s west side.

David Marsland was married to one of the victims.

At the memorial, a broken-off column stands at the center, which Marsland says represents the sense of loss. The column is surrounded by 13 stones, each bearing a plaque with a victim’s name on it. There’s a light red brick walkway. And forming the perimeter are poles holding up glass birds in flight.

"There’s 13 of them all departing," says Marsland. "The idea was to symbolize the effect that this tremendously evil and destructive act of one psychopathic individual had on the entire region of humanity on which it happened. Shockwaves that went out from the center. The design is specifically meant to evoke a flock of birds that were suddenly startled and all went off in different directions.”

April 3, 2009. 10:30am – a lone gunmen stormed into the American Civic Association killing 13 people and wounding four others. Many of the victims – including Marsland’s wife, Hong Xiu – were taking an English class, hoping to become U.S. citizens.

Matt Ryan was the mayor of Binghamton at the time. Ryan said in November, shortly before leaving office, that at least this is one of the less well-known mass shootings.

“One thing we all decided – me, Donna Lupardo and the other leaders – was ‘this is not Binghamton,'" says Ryan. "This was an aberration and we are not going to be defined by this tragedy.”

The monument was constructed in 2013 and is being dedicated this week. Rather than defining the city, Marsland hopes it will become part of the public history. He thinks residents recognize this as a sacred place, recalling one time he was visiting the memorial.

"A woman comes walking by and she stops to talk to me and says, 'Are you familiar with this place?' and I said 'no' fibbing a little bit. And I said, 'do you like it?' and she said, “like it? I love it! What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?' and it was a little fierce. But, I appreciated that. She was like a mother protecting her cubs.”

And that’s Marsland’s target – to make a memorial that’s not an object, but gets Binghamton residents to say “this is ours.”

Marsland says he tries not to think about the morning when his wife was killed. That he can’t spend the rest of his life wishing the shooting hadn’t happened.

“It’s heartbreaking. The worst thing you can do is try to block it out and pretend it’s not happening because then you’re dead before you stop breathing.”

For Marsland, the memorial stands as a testament to the beauty of his wife’s life.

Omri Yigal’s wife was in the English class, too, preparing for the citizenship exam. Yigal says he’s apathetic about the memorial.

“Itf not for those letters on those bench spell “Doris Yigal” but if not for that she’s not represented, she’s not there.”

Instead, Yagil prefers to remember Doris’ life on his own. He writes poems as an ode to her faithfulness and strong work ethic.

But both Yagil and Marsland agree the word “victim” does not describe their wives. Marsland says it’s a word of weakness and fear.

"It’s one of the challenges of the human spirit – developing a positive outlook in the face of the fact that we’re all going to die and birth is a fatal disease," says Marsland. "It’s a question of how you live as opposed to how you die. And that’s one of the reasons you don’t see much mention of death here. No mention of victimhood. It’s about life.”

Today, Marsland walks next to the plaques, bending down in front of one of them.

"This inscription was written by her daughter : 'People say when a person comes to the world, he comes with a mission. By the time that mission is accomplished, he needs to leave. That’s what I believe as well. You are a great mother. A great person who will forever live inside of me.'"